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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGodolphin - Chapter 19. A Rare And Exquisite Of The Best (worst) School...
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Godolphin - Chapter 19. A Rare And Exquisite Of The Best (worst) School... Post by :affiliates9 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1228

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Godolphin - Chapter 19. A Rare And Exquisite Of The Best (worst) School...


There was, in the day I now refer to, a certain house in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, which few young men anxious for the eclat of society passed without a wish for the acquaintance of the inmate. To that small and dingy mansion, with its verandahs of dusky green, and its blinds perpetually drawn, there attached an interest, a consideration, and a mystery. Thither, at the dusk of night, were the hired carriages of intrigue wont to repair, and dames to alight, careful seemingly of concealment, yet wanting, perhaps, even a reputation to conceal. Few, at the early hours of morn, passed that street on their way home from some glittering revel without noticing some three or four chariots in waiting;--or without hearing from within the walls the sounds of protracted festivity. That house was the residence of a man who had never done anything in public, and yet was the most noted personage in Society in early life, the all-accomplished Lovelace! in later years mingling the graces with the decayed heart and the want of principle of a Grammont. Feared, contemned, loved, hated, ridiculed, honoured, the very genius, the very personification, of a civilized and profligate life seemed embodied in Augustus Saville. Hitherto we have spoken of, let us now describe him.

Born to the poor fortunes and equivocal station of cadet in a noble but impoverished house, he had passed his existence in a round of lavish, but never inelegant, dissipation. Unlike other men, whom youth, and money, and the flush of health, and aristocratic indulgence, allure to follies, which shock the taste as well as the morality of the wise, Augustus Saville had never committed an error which was not varnished by grace, and limited by a profound and worldly discretion. A systematic votary of pleasure--no woman had ever through him lost her reputation or her sphere; whether it was that he corrupted into fortunate dissimulation the minds that he betrayed into guilt, or whether he chose his victims with so just a knowledge of their characters, and of the circumstances round them, that he might be sure the secrecy maintained by himself would scarcely be divulged elsewhere. All the world attributed to Augustus Saville the most various and consummate success in that quarter in which success is most envied by the lighter part of the world: yet no one could say exactly who, amongst the many he addressed, had been the object of his triumph. The same quiet, and yet victorious discretion waited upon all he did. Never had he stooped to win celebrity from horses or from carriages; nothing in his equipages showed the ambition to be distinguished from another; least of all did he affect that most displeasing of minor ostentatious, that offensive exaggeration of neatness, that outer simplicity, which our young nobles and aspiring bankers so ridiculously think it bon ton to assume. No harness, industriously avoiding brass; no liveries, pretending to the tranquillity of a gentleman's dress; no panels, disdaining the armorial attributes of which real dignity should neither be ashamed nor proud--converted plain taste into a display of plainness. He seldom appeared at races, and never hunted; though he was profound master of the calculations in the first, and was, as regarded the second, allowed to be one of the most perfect masters of horsemanship in his time. So, in his chess, while he chose even sedulously what became him most, he avoided the appearance of coxcombry, by a disregard to minutiae. He did not value himself on the perfection of his boot; and suffered a wrinkle in his coat without a sigh: yet, even the exquisites of the time allowed that no one was more gentlemanlike in the tout ensemble; and while he sought by other means than dress to attract, he never even in dress offended. Carefully shunning the character of the professed wit, or the general talker, he was yet piquant, shrewd, and animated to the few persons whom he addressed, or with whom he associated: and though he had refused all offers to enter public life, he was sufficiently master of the graver subjects that agitated the times to impress even those practically engaged in them with a belief in his information and his talents.

But he was born poor; and yet he had lived for nearly thirty years as a rich man! What was his secret?--he had lived upon others. At all games of science, he played with a masterly skill; and in those wherein luck preponderates, there are always chances for a cool and systematic calculation. He had been, indeed, suspected of unfair play; but the charge had never cooled the eagerness with which he had been courted. With far better taste, and in far higher estimation than Brummell, he obtained an equal, though a more secret sway. Every one was desirous to know him: without his acquaintance, the young debutant felt that he wanted the qualification to social success: by his intimacy, even vulgarity became the rage. It was true that, as no woman's disgrace was confessedly traced to him, so neither was any man's ruin--save only in the doubtful instance of the unfortunate Johnstone. He never won of any person, however ardent, more than a certain portion of his fortune--the rest of his undoing Saville left to his satellites; nay, even those who had in reality most reason to complain of him, never perceived his due share in their impoverishment. It was common enough to hear men say, "Ah! Saville, I wish I had taken your advice, and left off while I had yet half my fortune!" They did not accurately heed that the first half was Saville's; because the first half had excited, not ruined them.

Besides this method of making money, so strictly social, Saville had also applied his keen intellect and shrewd sense to other speculations. Cheap houses, cheap horses, fluctuations in the funds, all descriptions of property (except perhaps stolen goods), had passed under his earnest attention; and in most cases, such speculations had eminently succeeded. He was therefore now, in his middle age, and still unmarried, a man decidedly wealthy; having, without ever playing miser, without ever stinting a luxury, or denying a wish, turned nothing into something, poverty into opulence.

It was noon; and Saville was slowly finishing his morning repast, and conversing with a young man stretched on a sofa opposite in a listless attitude. The room was in perfect keeping with the owner: there was neither velvet, nor gilding, nor buhl, nor marquetrie--all of which would have been inconsistent with the moderate size of the apartment. But the furniture was new, massive, costly, and luxurious without the ostentation of luxury. A few good pictures, and several exquisite busts and figures in bronze, upon marble pedestals, gave something classic and graceful to the aspect of the room. Annexed to the back drawing-room, looking over Lord Chesterfield's gardens, a small conservatory, filled with rich exotics, made the only feature in the apartment that might have seemed, to a fastidious person, effeminate or unduly voluptuous.

Saville himself was about forty-seven years of age: of a person slight and thin, without being emaciated: a not ungraceful, though habitual stoop, diminished his height, which might be a little above the ordinary standard. In his youth he had been handsome; but in his person there was now little trace of any attraction beyond that of a manner remarkably soft and insinuating: yet in his narrow though high forehead--his sharp aquiline nose, grey eye, and slightly sarcastic curve of lip, something of his character betrayed itself. You saw, or fancied you saw in them the shrewdness, the delicacy of tact; the consciousness of duping others; the subtle and intuitive, yet bland and noiseless penetration into the characters around him, which made the prominent features of his mind. And, indeed, of all qualities, dissimulation is that which betrays itself the most often in the physiognomy. A fortunate thing, that the long habit of betraying should find at times the index in which to betray itself.

"But you don't tell me, my dear Godolphin," said Saville, as he broke the toast into his chocolate,--"you don't tell me how the world employed itself at Rome. Were there any of the true calibre there? steady fellows, yet ardent, like myself?--men who make us feel our strength and put it forth--with whom we cannot dally nor idle--who require our coolness of head, clearness of memory, ingenuity of stratagem--in a word, men of my art--the art of play:--were there any such?"

"Not many, but enough for honour," said Godolphin: "for myself, I have long forsworn gambling for profit."

"Ah! I always thought you wanted that perseverance which belongs to strength of character. And how stand your resources now? Sufficient to recommence the world here with credit and eclat?"

"Ay, were I so disposed, Saville. But I shall return to Italy. Within a month hence, I shall depart."

"What! and only just arrived in town! An heir in possession!"

"Of what?"

"The reputation of having succeeded to a property, the extent of which, if wise, you will tell to no one! Are you so young, Godolphin, as to imagine that it signifies one crumb of this bread what be the rent-roll of your estate, so long as you can obtain credit for any sum to which you are pleased to extend it? Credit! beautiful invention!--the moral new world to which we fly when banished from the old. Credit!--the true charity of Providence, by which they who otherwise would starve live in plenty, and despise the indigent rich. Credit!--admirable system, alike for those who live on it and the wiser few who live by it. Will you borrow some money of me, Godolphin?"

"At what percentage?"

"Why, let me see: funds are low; I'll be moderate. But stay; be it with you as I did with George Sinclair. You shall have all you want, and pay me with a premium, when you marry an heiress. Why, roan, you wince at the word 'marry!'"

"'Tis a sore subject, Saville: one that makes a man think of halters."

"You are right--I recognise my young pupil. Your old play-writers talked nonsense when they said men lost liberty of person by marriage. Men lose liberty, but it is the liberty of the mind. We cease to be independent of the world's word, when we grow respectable with a wife, a fat butler, two children, and a family coach. It makes a gentleman little better than a grocer or a king! But you have seen Constance Vernon. Why, out on this folly, Godolphin! You turn away. Do you fancy that I did not penetrate your weakness the moment you mentioned her name?--still less, do you fancy, my dear young friend, that I, who have lived through nearly half a century, and know our nature, and the whole thermometer of our blood, think one jot the worse of you for forming a caprice, or a passion, if you will--for a woman who would set an anchoret, or, what is still colder, a worn out debauchee, on fire? Bah! Godolphin, I am wiser than you take me for. And I will tell you more. For your sake, I am _happy that you have incurred already this, our common folly (which we all have once in a life), and that the fit is over. I do not pry into your secrets; I know their delicacy, I do not ask which of you drew back; for, to have gone forward, to have married, would have been madness in both. Nay, it was an _impossibility_: it could not have happened to my pupil; the ablest, the subtlest, the wisest of my pupils. But, however it was broken off, I repeat that I am glad it happened. One is never sure of a man's wisdom, till he has been really and vainly in love. You know what that moralizing lump of absurdity, Lord Edouard, has said in the Julie--'the path of the passions conducts us to philosophy!' It is true, very true; and now that the path has been fairly trod, the goal is at hand. _Now, I can confide in your steadiness; now, I can feel that you will run no chance in future, of over-appreciating that bauble, Woman. You will beg, borrow, steal, and exchange or lose the jewel, with the same delicious excitement, coupled with the same steady indifference, with which we play at a more scientific game, and for a more comprehensive reward. I say more comprehensive reward: for how many women may we be able to buy by a judicious bet on the odd trick!"

"Your turn is sudden," said Godolphin, smiling; "and there is some justice in your reasoning. The fit _is over; and if ever I can be wise, I have entered on wisdom now. But talk of this no more."

"I will not," said Saville, whose unerring tact had reached just the point where to stop, and who had led Godolphin through just that vein of conversation, half sentimentalising, half sensible, all profligate, which seldom fails to win the ear of a man both of imagination and of the world. "I will not; and, to vary the topic, I will turn egoist, and tell you _my adventures."

With this, Saville began a light and amusing recital of his various and singular life for the last three years. Anecdote, jest, maxim, remark, interspersed, gave a zest and piquancy to the narration. An accomplished roue always affects to moralise; it is a part of his character. There is a vague and shrewd sentiment that pervades his morale and his system. Frequent excitement, and its attendant relaxation; the conviction of the folly of all pursuits; the insipidity of all life; the hollowness of all love; the faithlessness in all ties; the disbelief in all worth; these consequences of a dissipated existence on a thoughtful mind, produce some remarkable, while they make so many wretched, characters. They coloured some of the most attractive prose among the French, and the most fascinating verse in the pages of Byron. It might be asked, by a profane inquirer (and I have touched on this before), what effect a life nearly similar--a life of luxury, indolence, lassitude, profuse, but heartless love, imparted to the deep and touching wisdom in his page, whom we consider the wisest of men, and who has left us the most melancholy of doctrines?

It was this turn of mind that made Savill's conversation peculiarly agreeable to Godolphin in his present humour; and the latter invested it, from his own mood, with a charm which in reality it wanted. For, as I shall show, in Godolphin, what deterioration the habits of frivolous and worldly life produce on the mind of a man of genius, I show only in Saville the effect they produce on a man of sense.

"Well, Godolphin," said Saville, as he saw the former rise to depart; "you will at least dine with me to-day--a punctual eight. I think I can promise you an agreeable evening. The Linettini, and that dear little Fanny Millinger (your old flame), are coming; and I have asked old Stracey, the poet, to say bons mots for them. Poor old Stracey! He goes about to all his former friends and fellow-liberals, boasting of his favour with the Great, and does not see that we only use him as we would a puppet-show or a dancing-dog."

"What folly," said Godolphin, "it is in any man of genius (not also of birth) to think the Great of this country can possibly esteem him! Nothing can equal the secret enmity with which dull men regard an intellect above their comprehension. Party politics, and the tact, the shifting, the commonplace that Party politics alone require; these they can appreciate; and they feel respect for an orator, even though he be not a county member; for he can assist them in their paltry ambition for place and pension: but an author, or a man of science, the rogues positively jeer at him!"

"And yet," said Saville, "how few men of letters perceive a truth so evident to us, so hackneyed even in the conversations of society! For a little reputation at a dinner table, for a coaxing nobe from some titled demirep affecting the De Stael, they forget not only to be glorious but even to be respectable. And this, too, not only for so petty a gratification, but for one that rarely lasts above a London season. We allow the low-born author to be the lion this year; but we dub him a bore the next. We shut our doors upon his twice-told jests, and send for the Prague minstrels to sing to us after dinner instead."

"However," said Godolphin, "it is only poets you find so foolish as to be deceived by you. There is not a single prose writer of real genius so absurd."

"And why is that?"

"Because," replied Godolphin, philosophising, "poets address themselves more to women than men; and insensibly they acquire the weaknesses which they are accustomed to address. A poet whose verses delight the women will be found, if we closely analyse his character, to be very like a woman himself."

"You don't love poets?" said Saville.

"The glory of old has departed from them. I mean less from their pages than their minds. We have plenty of beautiful poets, but how little poetry breathing of a great soul!"

Here the door opened, and a Mr. Glosson was announced. There entered a little, smirking, neat-dressed man, prim as a lawyer or a house-agent.

"Ah, Glosson, is that you?" said Saville, with something like animation: "sit down, my good sir,--sit down. Well! well! (rubbing his bands); what news? what news?"

"Why, Mr. Saville, I think we may get the land from old ----. He has the right of the job. I have been with him all this morning. He asks six thousand pounds for it.

"The unconscionable dog! He got it from the crown for two."

"Ah, very true,--very true: but you don't see, sir,--you don't see, that it is well worth nine. Sad times,--sad times: jobs from the crown are growing scarcer every day, Mr. Saville."

"Humph! that's all a chance, a speculation. Times are bad indeed, as you say: no money in the market; go, Glosson; offer him five; your percentage shall be one per cent. higher than if I pay six thousand, and shall be counted up to the latter sum."

"He! he! he! sir!" grinned Glosson; "you are fond of your joke, Mr. Saville."

"Well, now; what else in the market? never mind my friend: Mr. Godolphin--Mr. Glosson; now all gene is over; proceed,--proceed."

Glosson hummed, and bowed, and hummed again, and then glided on to speak of houses, and crown lands, and properties in Wales, and places at court (for some of the subordinate posts at the palace were then--perhaps are now--regular matter of barter); and Saville, bending over the table, with his thin delicate hands clasped intently, and his brow denoting his interest, and his sharp shrewd eye fixed on the agent, furnished to the contemplative Godolphin a picture which he did not fail to note, to moralise on, to despise!

What a spectacle is that of the prodigal rake, hardening and sharpening into the grasping speculator!

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